31/7/1917 Kerensky replaces Brusilov with Kornilov as army commander #1917Live

Something has gone very wrong with the Russian army. The recent offensive in Galicia has been a disaster, leading to a breakdown in discipline and a surge in desertions. Now the Germans and Austro-Hungarians are attacking in their turn and making great gains.

The offensive had been the brain child of Kerensky, then the war minister and now Prime Minister. Two days ago he met senior generals at the army headquarters in Mogilev, where they blamed the Revolution for the army’s plight. Denikin is particularly scathing of interference in the army’s affairs by the Petrograd Soviet and the invitation to insubordination he sees in its order that army units should elect soldiers’ committees and disobey orders that conflict with its own resolutions.

Now Kerensky decides that something will have to be done about the army. He dismisses Brusilov, thereby deflecting the blame for the offensive’s failure from himself. Brusilov’s replacement as commander in chief is Kornilov. Kornilov’s appointment is greeted with delight by those who feel that the Revolution has gone too far and that order needs to be restored. They hope that he will not merely restore order within the army but within society at large.

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Lavr Kornilov (Spartacus International)

1/7/1917 The Kerensky Offensive: Russia attacks

Kerensky, Russia’s war minister, has ordered a great offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Brusilov, the new army commander, presided over the preparations but he has become increasingly concerned that the Russian army is in no fit state for such an undertaking. Nevertheless, Kerensky has insisted that the offensive go ahead.

After two days of artillery bombardment today the infantry attack. Their target is the Galician city of Lemberg, known to the Russians as Lvov, which was occupied in 1914 but then recaptured by the enemy the following year. Initial progress is good, particularly against the Austro-Hungarians. The assault troops find the enemy trenches largely abandoned. It appears that the Teutons have been scared away by the artillery. The Russians press on.

But the Germans have not collapsed. Fraternisation between German and Russian troops meant they were fore-warned of the offensive. They have withdrawn to positions further to the rear and left the Russian artillery to pound their empty frontline trenches. Now they are waiting for the Russian infantry.

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The Eastern Front, summer 1917 (Wikipedia) (Lemberg is shown as the target of the two converging black arrows)

29/6/1917 The guns fire for Kerensky’s great offensive

Some thought that Russia’s revolution would mean that it would have to drop out of the war. Kerensky, the war minister, hopes to prove them wrong. He has ordered a great offensive against the Germans, with the aim being to capture the Austro-Hungarian city of Lemberg (known to the Russians as Lvov) and show the world what revolutionary Russia is capable of.

The offensive is taking place under the direction of Brusilov, the army’s new commander. Brusilov was one of the few generals who supported the revolution. Initially he was an enthusiastic supporter of Kerensky’s offensive, but he has begun to have doubts. Since he took over as army commander he has seen for himself how discipline has broken down. Officers are unable to make their men obey orders. The rebellious character of the men means that officers are now fearful of being lynched if they try to impose their will. Many officers have fled their posts. Many of their men have followed suit, deserting en masse and either heading home or living as brigands in rear areas.

There are also shocking reports of fraternisation between Russian troops and their German enemies. This seems to be encouraged by German commanders, who want to convince Russian soldiers that the war was forced on Germany by the elites of Russia and other Allied countries.

As preparations continue for the offensive rebelliousness in the army increases. A mutinous mood manifests. As units are moved up the front so many men desert that some lose three quarters of their strength. Soldiers are defiant towards their officers, declaring that the only authority they recognise is that of Lenin, the Bolshevik leader.

All this leads Brusilov towards the conclusion that the offensive will be a disaster. But when he puts his concerns to Kerensky he is ignored. Kerensky is adamant that the great revolutionary offensive must go ahead. And so today the artillery bombardment of the German positions begins.

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Kerensky addresses soldiers (Wikipedia)

4/6/1917 Brusilov takes over the Russian army

The Russian army has a new chief of staff, General Alexei Brusilov. Brusilov’s offensive last year shook the Austro-Hungarians, though it ultimately ended in failure (arguably as a result of decisions by Brusilov’s superiors). Kerensky, the war minister, picked Brusilov to lead the army because he is one of the few generals with some successes to his name. He is also one of few senior Russian generals who are enthusiastic supporters of the Revolution. He had become disillusioned with the Tsarist order and felt that the country needed radical change in order to join the modern world.

Brusilov arrives today at Stavka, the army general staff headquarters at Mogilev. He does not receive a warm welcome. He is not well liked by his fellow generals, partly for his republican views and partly because his successes have shown up their failures.

Brusilov’s job now is to prepare the Russian army for the great offensive that Kerensky has ordered. He is confident that the new order in the Russia will fire up the zeal of the soldiers to fight for their motherland.

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Alexei Brusilov (Wikipedia)

15/3/1917 Russia’s provisional government formed as the Tsar abdicates

In Petrograd the revolution has swept away the Tsarist regime. Now a provisional government is proclaimed. The prime minister is Prince Georgy Lvov, a liberal politician active in the cooperative movement. Some of the other members of the government are more obscure, but one prominent figure is the Minister for Justice, Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky is the only socialist in the provisional government, having been elected to the Duma as a member of the Trudovik Party, a split from the Socialist Revolutionaries. Kerensky is also a member of the executive of the Petrograd Soviet, and so he straddles the parliamentary and more radical aspects of the new order.

Meanwhile, what of the Tsar? In an unlikely sequence of events his train has got stuck in the town of Pskov. There he is assailed by telegrams from Alexeev, the Russian army’s chief of staff, and other leading generals, including Brusilov. They all say that it is essential that the Tsar abdicate. Otherwise disorder will spread inexorably through Russia and it will be impossible to continue the war.

The Tsar gives in. He renounces the throne of Russia, naming his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, as his successor (bypassing his son Alexei, whose haemophilia means that he is not expected to live long).

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The Tsar abdicates (Wikipedia)

20/9/1916 Brusilov’s offensive ends in failure

The Brusilov Offensive is over. In its early days, it brought the Austro-Hungarians close to collapse. Their line was only stabilised by the commitment of significant quantities of German reinforcements. The price of this aid has been the German take-over of the Austro-Hungarian army. The ancient Habsburg Empire is now little more than a client state of the arriviste Germans.

Brusilov’s offensive was meant to have been followed by another against the Germans to the north by Evert, with the rolling offensives denying the Central Powers the option of concentrating against any one threat. Unfortunately Evert’s offensive was still-born, thanks to his use of unimaginative human wave assaults. With Evert’s failure the Russians sent more reinforcements to Brusilov, but in an increasingly attritional battle the superior transport links and armaments of the Germans swung the battle in their favour. The offensive’s failure embitters Brusilov, who feels that he has been let down by his fellow officers.

The scale of blood-letting in the fighting is almost unimaginable. Russian casualties are variously estimated as being in the range of 500,000 to 1,000,000, with similar losses for the Austro-Hungarians and Germans. The bloodbath has effectively brought an end to Austro-Hungarian independence, but the offensive’s failure now threatens the credibility of the Tsarist regime in Russia.

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Maps (Wikipedia)

Soldiers (Metro Postcard)

15/8/1916 Germany takes over the Austro-Hungarian army

In Galicia Brusilov’s offensive against the Austro-Hungarians continues. Brusilov brought Austria-Hungary to the brink of collapse, advancing on a broad front, inflicting a great many casualties and taking vast numbers of prisoners. Now though the going is harder for the Russians. As the battle continues, their soldiers are increasingly worn down by the fighting. Worse, they are facing stronger enemies. The Austro-Hungarians have sent every man they can spare to block the Russian advance. The Germans have also come to the aid of their ally, sending considerable numbers of men to stiffen Austro-Hungarian resistance. Combined with British efforts at the Somme, this has forced Falkenhayn to halt German attempts to take Verdun from the French.

The Russians continue to press their offensive, but the fighting is becoming more attritional, with Russian men fighting against German and Austro-Hungarian guns. This is not the kind of battle Brusilov wanted to fight, but after the failure of Evert’s offensive to the north he has had to continue his efforts.

Germany’s assistance to the Austro-Hungarians does not come without a price. Falkenhayn has insisted that German officers be appointed to command and administer the combined armies on the Eastern Front. The Germans are effectively taking over the Austro-Hungarian army, removing its operational independence and turning it into an adjunct of their own army. The Austro-Hungarians went to war in 1914 to preserve the independence and integrity of their ancient empire. Now it is becoming little more than a client of their neighbour to the north.

image source (MetroPostcard)